Sun. May 19th, 2024

A toxic nitrate gas leak used by illegal miners to extract gold in an informal settlement near Johannesburg has claimed the lives of at least 16 individuals, including three young children. Local authorities and the police confirmed the heartbreaking news on Wednesday, revealing the grim consequences of the leak.

Initially, emergency services reported the possibility of up to 24 fatalities in the Angelo settlement, located in the outskirts of Boksburg. However, following a recount of the bodies, law enforcement officials and Premier Panyaza Lesufi of Gauteng province announced the official death toll to be 16. The search for any additional casualties continued, with rescue teams scouring the area for survivors.

Tragically, the victims’ bodies remained on the ground for hours after the incident as emergency services awaited the arrival of forensic investigators and pathologists. William Ntladi, spokesperson for the emergency services, expressed their inability to move the deceased, stating, “The bodies are still where they are on the ground.”

Heart-wrenching scenes unfolded as officials were observed covering the lifeless body of a child with a blanket. Another victim lay motionless beneath a white cloth, with a shoe peering out, as a strip of yellow police tape cordoned off the area.

Among the deceased were three children aged 1, 6, and 15, while two individuals were rushed to the hospital for medical attention, according to the police. The tragic incident occurred in Boksburg, the same city where a horrifying incident on Christmas Eve claimed the lives of 41 people when a truck carrying liquefied petroleum gas became stuck under a bridge and exploded.

Authorities identified the cause of the recent deaths as a leaked nitrate gas from a cylinder stored within a shack. Ntladi disclosed that the canister had emptied, allowing teams to commence a thorough search within a 100-meter radius from the site to ensure there were no additional casualties.

Videos shared by Premier Lesufi on social media depicted the dusty interior of a shack, where at least four gas cylinders were visible on metal stands. The footage also showcased the cylinder responsible for the leak, lying on the floor near the entrance of the shack.

Authorities did not confirm whether the illegal miners, believed to have utilized the gas cylinder, were among the victims. Illicit mining activities are rampant in the gold-rich regions surrounding Johannesburg, as miners venture into closed and abandoned mines in search of remaining deposits.

Sadly, fatal incidents, both above and below ground, are not uncommon. Recently, the South African government agency responsible for mining reported that a gas explosion in a disused mine in the central city of Welkom claimed the lives of at least 31 illegal miners. The explosion was attributed to methane gas, as stated by the mining agency.

The gas leak near Johannesburg serves as a grim reminder of the dangers faced by both miners and local communities involved in illicit mining operations. Efforts to address this ongoing issue and improve safety measures in these areas remain a critical concern for authorities in South Africa.

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